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Design Sprints for the Insurance Industry: How to get truly creative and deliver

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Creativity on demand is a big ask, especially since it has to be done right to deliver real innovation in the insurance industry. Given the insurance industry’s slow-paced reputation, accelerating innovation via resourceful thinking may not immediately come to mind. But design sprints offer just that. By using design sprints, you can apply an effective, fast, repeatable, and predictable process to help your team get creative in delivering insurance innovation more quickly. Design sprints were originally developed for the technology industry to reduce the risks involved in bringing products to market. We’ve adapted them for transformation within the life insurance industry and accordingly named them Life Design Sprints. Life Design Sprints’ effectiveness lies in their encouraging people to reach outside their comfort zones in a highly productive creative environment that results in impactful takeaways.

Right now, carriers are using Life Design Sprints to solve modern insurance problems; to design solutions people want to buy; and to create new value for insurtech startups and insurance institutions. 

Let’s break down how design sprints cultivate a creative environment in which people can truly deliver.

Design sprints inspire creativity, connection, and collaboration

Design sprints bring people together with a tested formal process for undertaking five product design steps in no more than five days:

1. Discover

2. Ideate

3. Decide

4. Prototype

5. Test

At the heart of design sprints are exercises that promote connection, creativity and collaboration 

The design sprints environment encourages participants to put aside titles and connect as individuals. Throughout the sprint, the team engages in exercises that extract maximum insight from everyone in the room.

Space for silence: A key difference between design sprints and traditional brainstorming approaches is the use of silent time for individual work before reconvening as a group. This approach avoids groupthink while allowing quieter, more reflective individuals the opportunity to contribute. Ultimately, it provides the space for everyone to think their ideas through fully before voicing them.

Show, don’t tell: When we describe a concept just with words, each person listening will likely have a different understanding of it. That’s why with design sprints, we adopt a “show, don’t tell” approach whenever possible. Participants, for instance, communicate their ideas in self-explanatory sketches designed to avoid ambiguity.

DESIGN SPRINTS FOR THE INSURANCE INDUSTRY: HOW TO GET TRULY CREATIVE AND DELIVERDot-mocracy rules: At several stages of the sprint, we use “dot voting” to canvas the team’s views to prevent undue bias. We then use the dots to form a heatmap that focuses the discussion on the most highlighted topics.

…but the Decider decides: Even though it’s a team exercise, without the sponsor’s support, no ideas will make it to market. So the Decider’s vote is the only one that counts in the end, and that’s why they always vote last.

Timeboxing: Participants are given a specific amount of time to complete an open-ended task, such as writing down as many ideas as possible on Post-it notes in two minutes. This approach delivers greater results in a shorter time.

In-person interviews: Participants learn more about the problem by interviewing potential customers. In-person interviews quickly lead to a direct understanding of end users’ needs.

Lockpicks: We use a collection of tools for unlocking people’s creativity to ensure innovative ideas. Take for example, Crazy 8s (where the constant repetition of one theme pushes people out of their comfort zone) and river-jumping (where we study related problems in different contexts to see how best to solve them).

Masterclasses: Experts on the discussion topic share their knowledge of the problem and its impact on potential customers.

Through this unique approach, participants will discover what exactly they want to solve and who they are solving it for. The group identifies the customers, their perspectives, and the problem that affects them. The relaxed, creative environment leads to impactful results.

True delivery is a result of alignment

DESIGN SPRINTS FOR THE INSURANCE INDUSTRY: HOW TO GET TRULY CREATIVE AND DELIVERWe've designed the exercises not just for fostering creativity but for aligning stakeholders to a common goal and promote buy-in, swiftly and thoroughly. A significant part of achieving alignment and buy-in is reaching consensus on an important problem to tackle. We achieve consensus through a “problem framing” approach that underlies the entire design sprints process to ensure the resulting solution can succeed in the marketplace.

Choosing a starting point can be challenging, particularly for those who aren’t familiar with design thinking and wicked problems. For this reason, when facilitating sprints, we often present a list of wicked problems in the life insurance industry to kickstart the group’s thinking.

Design sprints make framing the problem easier

Recognizing a problem to solve is more difficult than you may think, but we’ve structured design sprints to make the problem framing step much easier. Many people observe a situation they mistake for a problem in need of a solution.

Consider the following statement: “We should engage more with our customers.” Many people would see this observation as a problem and stop working on the problem- framing step. The group would then fall into the trap of identifying solutions prematurely. However, noting a need to engage more with customers is a general situation not a specific problem. More work, which requires deep thinking, is necessary to frame the real problem.

Why, oh why

One of my strategies when facilitating a design sprint is to ask “Why do you think this is a problem?” I ask this question frequently because I find that it often leads to a group going from observing a situation to identifying a problem in less than ten minutes. For instance,

We should engage more with our customers.

Why is this a problem?

Our long-term policyholders forget their reasons for buying the policy and its value

Why is this a problem?

If our policyholders aren’t aware of the value, they may be less willing to recommend our product, therefore lowering our NPS score. 

Now that’s a problem! One situation and ten minutes of “whys” can result in a specific problem for the group to focus on.

Spend a day on problem framing: it’s that important

The problem framing step in a design sprint takes about four to six hours, depending on the type of organization, the problem, and the participants. I recommend setting aside a day for this step because it will position the group to truly deliver.  

Beware of starting with a solution

Some participants are tempted to start with an existing solution, but this approach is inadvisable for the following reasons. First, the design sprint process helps the group refine their ideas to one problem. Second, it reveals how the group’s participants can apply their expertise to it. In other words, it’s crucial to avoid falling in love with a solution too early and complete the DESIGN SPRINTS FOR THE INSURANCE INDUSTRY: HOW TO GET TRULY CREATIVE AND DELIVERproblem framing step to ensure everyone aligns with the same problem and collectively defines it with clarity.

The following scenario shows what can happen when you fall in love with a solution too early. At one point my team didn’t believe in design sprints, at least until we participated in one. It was facilitated by a third party and we went into the design sprint attached to a specific problem and a pre-packed solution.

The result was that our pre-packed solution bombed the market test on the fifth day of the design sprint. Ouch.

It wasn’t all bad, though. We achieved complete alignment - over being completely wrong! Besides, we saved ourselves at least three months of product development by dropping a beloved solution that was sure to fail when it hit the market.

When it comes to innovation in the insurance industry, remember that Life Design Sprints:

  • Foster out-of-the box, creative thinking among your team
  • Enable you to identify a real problem to solve
  • Ensure you don’t fall in love with a solution too quickly
  • Help you accelerate the process

Your Life Design Sprint

What wicked problem are you trying to solve at your organization? Are you unsure what problem to focus on? Consider using design sprints to help your team become truly creative in delivering insurance innovation quickly. We’re ready to help you set up your design sprint for success so that you can make an immediate impact.

Contact RGAX about Life Design Sprints 

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Written by: Emmanuel Djengue

Emmanuel Djengue is Innovation Director of RGAX Europe. In this role, he works closely with life insurers, distributors, fintech companies and digital health startups to help develop a range of innovative life and health insurance propositions, including digital distribution, consumer engagement tools, and innovation as a service.